Drone footage taken above Monterey Bay, California shows one of the most stunning large-scale predation events on the planet. In a video filmed by Monterey Bay Whale Watch last week, a pod of 30 killer whales swarms and attacks a pair of adult gray whales.
The stunning interaction spanned five hours, according to Monterey Bay Whale Watch’s photographer Evan Brodsky. In 30 years of observations, this is the first time the whale-watching outfit has ever captured footage of orcas preying on adult gray whales. Brodsky posted the video to Facebook on April 2, and it has since amassed more than 12,000 views.
“My heart was beating out of my chest,” Brodsky later told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I felt like I was filming something from National Geographic.”
Two-and-a-half minutes of high-quality video show the North Pacific gray whales huddled together in an effort to ward off their killer whale attackers. The orcas ram the giant whales repeatedly, exploding out of the water around them. As the gray whale on the viewer’s left twists its body, patches of bloodied water rise to the surface.
In another video, posted by WVUE Fox 8, Brodsky said it’s common to see killer whales preying on gray whale calves between April and May—but he never sees them attacking full-grown adults.
Killer whales are the ocean’s apex predators, though they’re actually members of the dolphin family and not considered true whales. Males, which grow larger than females, reach 30 feet in length and weigh upwards of 16,000 pounds. Their bite force clocks in at an incredible 19,000 pounds per square inch.
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Fully grown female gray whales, which typically grow larger than males, reach 49 feet and weigh over 90,000 pounds. They are the eighth largest animal on earth. The largest—blue whales—are twice as long as gray whales and weigh three times as much. They are also on the killer whale’s menu.